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Belgrade has become a more colourful city since the overthrow of the Milosovec regime. Eye catching billboards throughout the city proclaim slogans such as “Freedom always”, “I choose”, and “The taste of freedom”. But these words do not refer to the new political freedom. Instead they are sound bites from the international tobacco industry.
Under Milosevic, 90% of cigarettes sold were smuggled into Yugoslavia, with individuals closely linked to the former regime playing an active part. The two domestic tobacco companies, which in theory held a monopoly, accounted for the remaining 10%. Now illegal sales have fallen to 30% of the total and the street vendors, perched on their crates of cigarettes, are out of work.
Lured by prospects of scarce inward investment, the new government has welcomed the international tobacco industry. Faced with an unemployment rate of 40%, offers of factories each promising 200–500 jobs become very attractive. Proposals are flooding in, from the UK and USA, from Greece and Cyprus, and from Croatia and Bulgaria. The industry is also offering investment in tobacco cultivation, which, it claims, would provide even more jobs. Inevitably, the cost of entry is falling as local politicians compete to attract investments to their own towns. At the same time, deaths from tobacco related diseases are rising rapidly.
So Yugoslavia faces a dilemma: jobs or health? But this is not just a matter for Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav coast is an ideal base for the speedboats that have, for years, been smuggling cigarettes from Montenegro into Italy, and onwards through the European Union. It remains to be seen whether the recent affirmation of an anti-smuggling position by certain tobacco companies is more than cosmetic.
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